"I’m sick of this state screwing people, screwing all of these gentlemen. I’m tired of it. I AM TIRED OF IT!" -- Cory Session
In Texas, the wrongful conviction capital of America, the state legislature recently was witness to an extraordinary angry outburst for the wrongly accused, an outburst that is long overdue and that should reverberate from one end of America to the other.
Cory Session, the brother of Tim Cole who was posthumously exonerated of rape charges (read Tim Cole's tragic story at the Innocence Project's site), shouted -- you read that correctly -- shouted at state Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Southside Place, after she voiced opposition to a proposal to create a commission that would investigate wrongful convictions in Texas. The bill would establish a panel to study wrongful convictions and recommend improvements in the justice system. Mr. Sessions denounced Sen. Huffman's attitude as deplorable and she should get a new job, then he stormed out while muttering an expletive.
Huffman was chairing the Senate Committee on Criminal Justice at the time, and she declared the bill as unnecessary. Unnecessary in a state that has found at least 117 prisoners innocent of crimes for which they were convicted in the past 25 years. Here are some of them. Huffman listed the various justice reforms that the Legislature has passed over the past 12 years, essentially saying enough is enough. As one newspaper account reported: "Huffman may have thought supporters of the bill would be impressed and mollified, but some of them obviously were insulted by her tactic."
Four exonerees and Mr. Session walked to the witness table, and Mr. Session went first. His testimony:
SESSION: The eyes of Texas have been closed on criminal justice reform. My brother’s eyes are permanently closed – permanently. He’s six feet under. He ain’t ever coming out. And to hear the attitude that you have, to me is deplorable.
Don’t box yourself in to refusing to invite change. I witnessed my mother nearly have a nervous breakdown when a closed-minded prosecutor, who had an attitude like yours …
HUFFMAN: Sir, let’s not get personal
SESSION: … put her son in jail. Let me finish, let me finish, stop — and let me finish.
HUFFMAN: Of course, sir
SESSION: This is not Harris County, and I heard you say Harris County is not in favor. Well, I can tell you the Tarrant County prosecutor is in favor, the Dallas County prosecutor is in favor, and so many other county prosecutors are in favor.
I am sickened. You might as well disband this committee. That’s your job to figure out what went wrong in this state. It’s your job. You don’t like it? Go find another. I’m sorry. I am just pissed off to hear that kind of attitude. It’s deplorable. It’s despicable. …
We’re trying to make it right for a lot of people, the incarcerated innocent, the nameless. They don’t have a voice. They need a voice. And you got the highest sitting judges in this state, Wallace Jefferson and Sharon Keller, saying “Yes, it’s time.” It’s time. Time is running out. You’ve got to do something. …
I’m sick of this state screwing people, screwing all of these gentlemen. I’m tired of it. I AM TIRED OF IT!
HUFFMAN: Yes, sir
SESSION: Keep your mind closed, if you will, but, damn it, you need another job. [Gets up and walks off]
HUFFMAN: Thank you, sir.
The next witness was Billy Smith of Dallas, who also gave Huffman a lecture, with volume.
“It’s been 27 years now, and I still don’t how and why I was convicted of a crime I did not commit,” he said. “I want an answer.”
The bill’s author in the state house, Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, D-San Antonio, killed Huffman’s local bills for a couple days in a row. Nobody in the House came to Huffman’s aid.